Introducing Ave Rose
I began watching Steampunk’d on GSN TV the day the first episode aired and I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. It was what I hoped it would be: a contest style reality show with excellent steampunk makers as contestants and judges. Some of us in the community were worried they wouldn’t get that quite right, but it’s spot on.
There have been some criticisms, of course, such as the show’s focus on the drama, and some questions of whether the elimination format is the most appropriate for this type of contest, but you can’t deny the way that keeps us viewers hooked.
Last Wednesday night, it was great to see that the multi-talented Ave Rose made it to the final four. Ave is a writer, costume designer, singer, and maker par excellence, and she took time out of her busy schedule to share some of her life with us.
Jonathan Fesmire: Hello Ave! First, could you share a bit about yourself for our readers?
Ave Rose: I’m a Filipino American artist based in Los Angeles. In 2003 I received my B.A. in English Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing. In 2005 I started my own publishing company called Ink Pen Mutations Press, focusing specifically on illustrated short stories. I currently have 14 books out with 3 written by me. In 2010 I began making art as a form of meditation to help me deal with a personal hardship. I started with miniature robots I made from watch parts. I call these robots Watchbots. As I got deep into the Watchbot world I started making things move and light up turning their environments into interactive moving sculptures. From there I started creating larger scale automata by pairing taxidermy ephemera and clockwork with motion mechanics. People started noticing my art and next thing I knew I was showing in the top galleries in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Seattle, & Tokyo.
JF: On Steampunk’d the teams had to design full rooms in just three days each. How did you find that pace? Are you at all used to that kind of creative pressure?
AR: I had no problem at all with the pace of the show. I’m use to insane deadlines and when I’m in super focus mode my body eats, sleeps, drinks, very little which also means I rarely went to the restroom while the clock was ticking. I’m one of the fastest workers I know because I obsessively create and will not stop until something is done. If it seemed like I struggled with time on a project during the show it’s only because of whatever drama or politics happened to be constantly interrupting me. I hate interruptions unless it’s someone who needs my help with something. I don’t have a problem taking a quick break to help someone out.
JF: What do you like most about being a Steampunk maker?
AR: I love the inclusiveness of the steampunk genre. The fact that no one is left out and anything can happen because it’s fantasy but fantasy with a focus on mechanical wonders. It fits me perfectly and allows my imagination to run wild.
JF: What do you like the least about it?
AR: Well I never set out to be a steampunk maker. I just make art that happens to fall into that category. And I have fun vending at steampunk conventions. But when people begin to put restrictions on the steampunk genre saying it has to fit a particular set of rules it’s like putting boundaries on not only my art but my fashion.
JF: There are a lot of amazing people in the steampunk movement. Who are some of your heroes or influences?
AR: Well the inspiration for the esthetics of my art come from the fantastical stop motion animations of Jan Švankmajer, Bolex Brothers, Quay Brothers, Jiří Trnka, Mike Jittlov, Ray Harryhausen, and Tim Burton. I’ve always been fascinated with 17th century automata which I’m constantly reading books and watching documentaries about. And I’m also greatly inspired by Los Angeles automata makers Brian Poor and Thomas Kuntz . I’m honored to have shown art in galleries with both artists. What a dream come true!
JF: I need to look up some of those people! I’m familiar with Ray Harryhausen and Tim Burton, of course. How long does it usually take you to create a new piece, like a your Watchbot Vivarium?
AR: I feel that something like this would take other artists months. Because people tend to take breaks while working, or work on several pieces at once. I’m too crazy for that. I have a hyper focus concentration. So it took me 3 weeks. Keep in mind that’s three weeks of working solid. Yes, that means I even slept next to my sculpture and had my food delivered.
JF: That is hyper focused, but it looks like it’s paying off in how prolific you are. As all artists know, at some point, you have to stop tinkering with your work and let it be what it is. At what point are you satisfied with any given piece?
AR: That’s an easy one. I work on art the same way I write a story. I don’t start until I know exactly what the finished piece looks like in my head. At UCLA I would have these writer meetings with a bunch of friends and was shocked to find that so many writers start a story and have no idea what’s going to happen as they write it. Then they struggle with the plot and often get stuck. I don’t work that way. I usually start a story in my head from the end. In my head I figure out who the characters are, why they are important, and how it all unfolds in relation to the end. Then I sit down and begin to write it all down. I’ve never had writer’s block. And that’s how I am with my art. I already know what it’s going to do and look like. I know when to stop when what I’m seeing matches the vision I set up in my head. I don’t like figuring things out as I’m working on it. It has to be figured out as much as possible before I start.
JF: When you’re not creating, what do you do to relax?
AR: When I’m not creating? Lol. Sleeping, eating. Playing with my two dogs. Being a mom. Even though my daughter’s already old. She’s nineteen. I also love to sing and dance. I got out when I can to get dressed up and go dancing. Sometimes goth clubs sometimes Burning Man warehouse dance parties. I also love going to electronics swap meets and oddities shops & antique stores.
JF: Is there a particular piece you’re most proud of? If so, which, and where can we see it?
AR: Well I’m really proud of the one you mentioned earlier. Watchbot Vivarium is a place where Watchbots observe exotic creatures and plants. It consists of a giant glass sphere on an antique brass base that holds the mechanics. Within the sphere are twenty-five Watchbots with eyes of rubies, sapphires, garnets, amethyst, and peridot. Featuring an Atlas Moth from Malaysia, a Gladiator Butterfly from Madagascar, a Peanut Lantern Fly from Central America, a Red Green Lantern Fly from Thailand, a Froghopper Fly from Canada, a Metallic Wood Borer Beetle from North America, a Rosy Maple Moth from North America, and a Mini Scarab from Hungary. When you use the hand crank the Atlas Moth, Gladiator Butterfly, & Peanut Lantern actually fly with watchbots riding on them. This automaton was created for the Copro Gallery’s famous Conjoined Group Show January 2015 and sold. But you can check still see a quick video of it in action here on YouTube.
I also did a stop motion time lapse that shows this sculpture coming together piece by piece to one of my pop-arias.
JF: Are you often compared to other makers? Is this flattering or annoying?
AR: My Watchbot work is often compared or mistaken with the miniature work of Susan Beatrice. And my taxidermy automata are often compared to Jessica Jocelyn. It’s always an honor to be compared to such brilliant work. As long as people can tell that as artists our work carries our own signature style then I’ll always take the comparison to great artists as a compliment. It’s only annoying if we are accused of copying one another.
JF: What are your favorite materials to work with? What would you suggest newbie makers use?
AR: I love integrating the natural with the mechanical. When it comes to natural parts the more exotic the better such as meteorites or animal bones. When it comes to hardware I love using things that have high craftsmanship or a story such as antiques. Anything I use that was once living I obtain ethically. For instance all my seahorse pieces come with a scroll that is a guarantee that the Seahorses were never captured and died naturally. The only thing I can suggest to makers is that if you want to make a living off of your art it won’t be easy if you use parts and techniques that anyone can obtain. That’s why I’m always investing not only the time but also every cent I make back into my art so that all my materials are of the highest quality and not something anyone can just find at the local crafts store. And none of my stuff can be easily replicated. When I do shows other vendors seem paranoid when people take photos of their art. I love when people take photos and share my art. If someone can figure out how you made something by looking at it and replicate it then… I know some people have tried to replicate. Either they get frustrated and give up before producing something or whatever they make is super sloppy. It took me years to fine-tune my techniques.
JF: You’re not only a maker, you’re also a writer, singer, and a dancer! I discovered Starting Over on YouTube and enjoyed it. How did that come about? Did you design any of the set?
AR: As a trained opera singer I’m always doing the operatic background vocals to metal bands. One band I worked with suggested that I apply to a dark music female record company. Rx Records ended up writing and producing the song starting over. I wrote the music video concept, created the sets, and wardrobe. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out. You can watch that video as well as my other music videos in this YouTube playlist.
JF: Did you take dance classes as a kid, or did you learn from watching others and just dancing?
AR: I took ballet, jazz, and tap as a kid. I lived to dance. But when I was 11 years old my parents could no longer afford the lessons. As a teenager I took up breakdancing and joined a Filipino breakdance crew called Halo Halo Tribe. With breakdancing I learned just by watching. I did end up having a kid at an early age so I had to give up dancing in order to focus on school, working, and being a mom.
JF: Briefly (as I know from your Steampunk’d interview that making is your thing now rather than writing), what can you tell us about your writing and books?
AR: Though I’m a true lover of fantasy and sci-fi my writing is in the genre of horror. It’s a very different side of me. I think that’s why I had to move on to my visual art as my written work was too intense for me. It’s the product of someone who mostly exists within their own head. Always reminiscing about the past or contemplating the future. Whereas my art is so technical that when I’m working on it, the process allows me to live in the now. The exact moment at hand. I have one last book I’ve written that is yet to be released because the illustrator is a master painter and I’ve given him as much time as he needs to work on the story. I’m curious as to when the book will finally be published considering that I wrote the story 5 years ago. But it’s my last book so I want it done right. If you join my email list at AveRoseArt.com you’ll always be updated on anything I do, including updates on my last book.
JF: Thanks again, Ave!
Ave Rose Online
In addition to Ave’s website, AveRoseArt.com, visit and like her Facebook fan page and her publishing site, Ink Pen Mutations Press.
“I don’t care that they stole my idea … I care that they don’t have any of their own.” — Nikola Tesla